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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


 

AVAILABILITY

Georgina von Benza website

Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Il Trovatore - Tacea la notte placida [5.45], D’amor sull’ali rosee [6.10]
Nabucco - Ben io t’invenni [8.10]
Aida - Ritorna vincitor [7.05], O cieli azzurri [7.03]
La Forza del destino - Pace, pace [6.00]
Un Ballo in Maschera - Ecco l’orrido campo [10.10]
Otello - Ave Maria [5.46]
Don Carlo - Tu che le vanitá [11.23]
La Traviata - E’strano, e’strano [9.51]
Georgina von Benza (soprano)
Xavier Rivadeneira (tenor) (La Traviata)
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Marco de Prosperis
Rec. Slovak Radio Bratislava, May 2003. DDD.
TADE CD001 [78.09]

Comparative versions:

Maria Callas - Verdi Arias vol.1 EMI CDC 7 47730 2
Maria Callas - Verdi Arias vol 2 EMI CDC 7 47943 2
Gwyneth Jones MDC 461 5912

If you’re ‘discovering’ Verdi opera for the first time and want a collection of soprano sweetmeats, as it were, then you are unlikely to find this distasteful. However, if, like me, you delve deeper into each aria and want more than mere surface pleasure, any disc of this kind has its work cut out.

In general terms von Benza’s voice is attractive, powerful with an edgy tone in forte, and capable of hushed sensitivity in piano. The range is useful (over two octaves), the attack on note for the most part accurate. The booklet note recounts, a little pretentiously perhaps, the main points of her career to date – from training in Kiev and Budapest via competition successes in Vienna and Salzburg to houses around Europe and the Far East. So we are faced with an experienced stage performer.

That brings me to my first reservation about the disc in general: it has too little sense of the stage about it. Listening to Ben io t’invenni, I wondered who was following who? The voice seemed almost self-conscious in its cautiously floated line and de Prosperis did not keep up the dynamic to the extent one would hope for. Elsewhere (Ritorna vincitor, for example) promise of dynamism is shown but lost or dashed later in the performance, which demonstrates that the conductor has little of individuality to say. The same, sadly, can be said of his brief booklet synopses of the arias. The orchestra is averagely recorded, perhaps too thinly in the violins. Solo lines from woodwind are present, though somewhat lacking in character for the most part.

That leaves von Benza to carry the show, which she does not manage to do: attention to detail ultimately lets her down.

In Tacea la notte placida, the opening track, von Benza’s voice does not really catch the ear until the word ‘placida’ – by which time it is obvious that the words might not always get the care they deserve. Of course, it’s tough on singers these days having to sing in maybe four or more languages and be understood in them. In a live performance one is more willing to let it pass, but a recording is forever – and the competition substantial.

Ecco l’orrido campo, like much else here, will in the minds of many collectors be associated with the interpretation set down by Maria Callas in Paris under Nicola Rescigno. Where Callas gets between the notes to the core of the drama, despite all her vocal ‘problems’, von Benza tries but never is a real rival. Yes there is a nice lower chest voice, but throughout the range she fails to cut convincingly to the chase. Where’s the shock, the horror, the urgency?

The two Callas CDs of Verdi arias cover much the same ground, and also take in arias from Aroldo, Il Corsaro, Ernarni, Macbeth, I vespri siciliani and I Lombardi along the way. Plus they attack all with greater insight and dramatic conviction. Alternatively, take Gwyneth Jones, in her youth a fine Verdian, indeed had Wagner not dominated her career no doubt her Verdian prowess would be better known. Even early on hers was an unruly instrument, but the reading she offers of Tu che le vanitá, like Callas, shows how much is left wanting in von Benza’s assumption. So to does Jones’ Ave Maria, and it’s the most sensitive on disc that I know.

Of course, Callas assumed Violetta, and for many her Covent Garden reading from 1958 remains unsurpassed. There are others of note: Cotrubas or Gheorghiu, would head my list. All offer more than von Benza. There are signs though that her voice is already too heavy for the music.

Although von Benza turns in generally decent performances, go for more incisive alternatives.

Evan Dickerson

 



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